In what may be the most controversial measure on Tuesday’s ballot, voters decide to approve or reject Constitutional Amendment 1, dubbed the “Right to Farm” amendment.
If approved, the measure will add section 35 to Article I of the Missouri Constitution. The new section would read as:
“Section 35. That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”
Opponents of the bill say it’s unnecessary as there are already laws in place to protect farmers from litigation, animals could be abused at the mercy of confined feeding operations and it would help big agriculture avoid valid lawsuits. Supporters say it would keep outside interests from changing the way Missouri farmers manage their operations. With the election only days away, the matter now rests in the hands of voters.
Why is it necessary?
Many states have laws governing agriculture. Few have them enshrined in the state constitution. Section 537.295 of the Missouri Revised Status in 2013 provided agriculture operations with protections against nuisance suits.
Pettis County Farm Bureau President Roger Cordes said Amendment 1 is not rewriting the Missouri Constitution, but is simply trying to “button it up” in order to prevent farmers from being subject to outside interests.
“A couple years ago HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) brought that ballot referendum to Missouri on Proposition B and it was just totally an attack to get to agriculture,” Cordes said. “This is really to tighten that up, so those outside interests can’t come into Missouri and tell us what to do.”
Mona McCormack is a local resident in opposition to the bill. She has a degree in environmental science and is a supporter of organic farming and, as she says, “having healthy food on the table for her family.”
“Farmers already have the right to farm. This bill does not empower the small traditional farmer. Instead, it threatens their ability to compete against corporate ag,” she said. “It’s not a bill for the traditional farmer, it’s a bill for corporate farmers. We need to be sure a change to our constitution serves a true purpose and it’s not the brainchild of some special interest group.”
“Animals are how we make a living. I’m a cow and calf farmer. If you mistreat an animal, you’re taking money out of your pocket,” Cordes said. “Look at how hogs are raised now compared to how they were in the ’30s and ’40s. They were out in mud lots in the extreme temperatures.
“Now, most hogs are grown in climate controlled buildings just like the chickens. Drive through Pettis County and see the chicken houses that family farms have for Tyson. Those buildings are environmentally controlled. If they get too hot or too cold, an alarm sounds. Their deal that animals are being mistreated is a far cry. Animals are treated better now than ever.”
He added that Amendment 1 came about, in part, as a response to Proposition B, also known as the “Puppy Mill” bill, which passed in 2010. The Farm Bureau at that time argued the initiative was a “backdoor attempt at targeting confined animal feeding operations in Missouri.”
“We’ve seen what they do in other states we’ve seen what they do to the hog production in other states,” he said. “They start in smaller states and they work up. HSUS, their ultimate goal is not friendly to agriculture, and certainly not a friend of animal agriculture.”
McCormack said the amendment will make conditions in confined feeding operations even worse, as it will allow corporate agriculture to cram as many animals as possible in a confined space.
“One of the fears expressed by the humane society is that it would make conditions worse for the animals in the confined feeding operations that we already have, but that it could increase the number of those types of operations,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘you can only have 200,000 of an animal in one spot,’ now it will say ‘you can have however many you can squeeze in’ because there are no regulations anymore.”
She added that Amendment 1 could allow the same type of dog breeding operations the HSUS fought to regulate, to open back up again.
“A few years ago, Missouri worked very hard to put regulations in place to stop puppy mills,” McCormack said. “So the Humane Society is concerned, because dog breeding falls under those same types of rules and regulations as agriculture and livestock breeding and this could make it possible for those puppy mills to open right back up again.”
Big Farm, Small Farm
Another argument is that Amendment 1 will drive small farmers out of business by opening up the state to not only corporate agriculture, but to foreign interest as well.
“I know where they have come up with this story,” Cordes said. “Right now there is a cap. The state senators I talked to and other Farm Bureau people say there is a 1 percent cap on Missouri ownership of farmland by foreign investors. They assure me that won’t be raised.”
He referred to the sale of Smithfield Foods and added that there are controls in place to prevent this type of incident from happening again.
“This came about because a large hog farm, Smithfield Foods, who also owns farmland in other states, sold out to a Chinese company. That’s was a big deal,” he said. “They raise their hogs, they process them from birth to the store and they happened to own this land. That was an unfortunate thing, but it was the economy. That happens. Look at Anheuser-Busch.”
McCormack said she wonders if the vague wording in the amendment could be construed as an open invitation to foreign interests, but she is also concerned about the practices used by the current corporate controlled farms as small farmers are already having a hard time competing with them.
“Some of the farmers I’ve talked to said they already have a hard time competing because corporate agriculture has the monetary resource to do pretty much whatever they want,” she said. “If you take them to court, good luck winning. The small and organic farmers, if this bill comes about, they won’t have any way to fight.”
She added that without control over amounts of pesticides or other chemicals used on corporate farms, smaller farmers will have a hard time keeping the chemicals off their fields.
“Say somebody sprays their crops with pesticides and it blows over on some of their supposedly organic food. It’s now contaminated with pesticides,” McCormack said. “Without any type of regulations in place to stop (corporate agriculture) from doing that, (organic farmers) are defenseless.”
The measure is supported by a wide swath of organizations such as the Farm Bureau, the Missouri Cattlemen Association, MFA Incorporated, the Missouri Pork Association and many others, as well as corporations Monsanto and Cargill.
“Farm Bureau is very much in favor of Amendment 1, us and about 40 agricultural commodity groups that all fall under Missouri Farmers Care,” Cordes said. “Whether we are livestock or crop production, Missouri Farmers MFA, they all stand united on this.”
The biggest opponents are the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Missouri Farmers Union, Missouri’s Food for America, Missouri Citizens for Change, Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation and several others.
“Under the list of supporters we are looking at corporate agriculture and Monsanto and these big business. The people who are opposing it are the Farmers Union and farmers against contract feeding operations, the Humane Society, and sustainable and organic farmers,” McCormack said. “If I have to choose who I am going to stand with, I am going to stand with the traditional farmers and the people who are trying to bring us safe food choices and non-cruelty to animals. I would rather be with them than the Monsanto’s and the huge companies.”